When you tell people you’re planning a trip to Cartagena, Colombia, prepare for multiple people to enthusiastically say, “THE Joan Wilder of Cartagena?” Apparently it is most people’s only reference point for Cartagena. Which is more than I had, because I didn’t even know that movie quote when I began researching Cartagena.
But Cartagena has more to it than movie quotes. It’s a vibrant colorful city, rich in history, inspiring architecture, stunning beaches and amazing restaurants. In Cartagena you can merge a beautiful tropical vacation of Caribbean waters with a charming historical walkable city. And if you’re a foodie, you won’t be disappointed. Colombians have mastered the art of culinary hospitality.
Back in the day, Cartagena was a hub to expand the Spanish empire. It’s history is important because it is a source of pride for locals, and it should be, because they have managed to preserve it’s Spanish Colonial charm with it’s blend of Italian and Spanish architeture. And the city didn’t just catch the eye of locals, the impressive walled city has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Named after Cartagena, Spain, it was founded in 1533 and was known in the colonial era as Cartagena de Indias and was/is a major port city. It’s strategically located between two rivers (Magdalena and Sinú), faces the Caribbean Ocean and is the 5th largest city in Colombia, as well as the capital of the Bolívar Department.
WHAT TO DO
WHAT’S FOR DINNER?
Most restaurants don’t open until after 7:00 for dinner. There’s no showing up at restaurants at 5:30 for an early dinner with kids. They don’t open until after their staff has time to eat dinner before they start their shift.
All the restaurants we ate at were phenomenal, both in their decor and ambiance, but also with their amazing artisan dishes, their service and attention to detail. Cartagena is a foodie’s paradise. And the best part is that the food is less expensive that other cities. You don’t have to book restaurants months in advance, but reservations are recommended, as most restaurants are small with a small staff, so they need to plan for the dinner crowd.
DonJuán Cartagena – need reservations, fantastic.
Marea by Rausch – definitely worth a stop.
Carmen Cartegena is probably one of the most legendary dining experiences in Colombia. Known all over Colombia for their amazing dishes, they now own 5 restaurants Medellín and Cartagena. Their dishes are artistic culinary masterpieces.
Moshi – Craving Caribbean infused Japanese dishes? Definitely check out Moshi. There is also one in Medellín.
Cafe Del Mar – On wall with ocean view, outside seating only, great sunset, but get there early to get a table.
Semolina – Italian
La Cocinadel Socorro (lunch)
La Vitrola – Highly recommended.
Restaurante La Perla Cartagena or simply La Perla is a little pricier than some of the dining options, but still a solid choice for Peruvian in Cartagena.
Crepes y Waffles – Specializes in, you guessed it, crepes and waffles. But have a full menu and the food is excellent for lunch and dinner as well. Casual but still fantastic.
Vera Cucina Italiana – amazing ambiance, service and food.
La Cevicheria – If you are looking for great ceviche, this is the place to go.
WHERE TO STAY
Hotels Inside Walled City
Bovedas De Santa Clara Hotel – Inside the walled city, but close to the wall, so you have an ocean view in some rooms.
Hotel Casa San Agustin – Beautiful, helpful staff and has Alma downstairs.
Hotel Charleston Santa Teresa
Casa Cochera del Gobernador
Anandá Boutique Hotel
Bastión Luxury Hotel
Bocagrande is part of an L shaped peninsula that juts out from the walled city section of Cartagena.
Estelar del Cartagena de India – Modern high rise overlooking the ocean.
Hotel Dann Cartagena – Ocean view.
Hotel Caribe – A massive older hotel with an old school vibe. Although the service is perfect, and the location is great with beach access, you should know that not all rooms are created equal. Part of the hotel has been renovated, but part has not, and the part that hasn’t been renovated is the only part that offers 2 beds in one room.
Conrad Cartagena – A great option if you want to be outside the city. It’s beachfront, but about a 30/40 minute drive to the walled city and about 20 minutes past the Rafael Nuñez International Airport.
If you want to Airbnb, I’d recommend staying inside the walled city. Or if you want to be near a beach, look at one of the all white high rises on the peninsula of Castillogrande, This area is less touristy than the beach area of Bocagrande. And if you are traveling with children, many of the buildings have playgrounds. It is a short Uber/cab to the walled city area, 10 – 15 minutes, depending on traffic.
TIP – Always have small bills to pay cab drivers as they will mysteriously never have change to give you back. And most cab rides are very cheap.
TIP – Before you book a hotel, look at the hotel’s website, sometimes they offer specials that aren’t listed on other booking sites.
TIP – If you are staying outside the walled city and getting a cab to somewhere within the walled city, sometimes it’s easier to just be dropped off at the wall and walk. Once inside the wall, it’s a lot of one way streets that are difficult to quickly maneuver in a car because of the pedestrian traffic.
TIP – Flights within Colombia are inexpensive and short flights. If you’re already in Cartagena, why not also hop a flight to Medellín?
TIP – The women dressed in colorful traditional outfits aren’t there just for fun. They are there for tips. They want tips if you want to take a photo of them or with them, so have some small bills handy.
*As always at Finding Pura Vida, all opinions are my own.
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If you feel like there’s something amazing in Cartagena, Colombia that travelers need to know about that was missed, please add it the comments below and I will check it out next time I am on PEI. Thanks so much for reading!